Documentary Releases: The Book of Harth (2022) - Reviewed

Images courtesy of MVD Visual

Twenty years ago sometime in 1997, New York City based performance artist David Greg Harth working through several various forms of media went to see a U2 concert and like many others in attendance there were fans eager to snag some kind of autograph from the musicians.  In the heat of the moment, all Harth had on hand was a copy of the Holy Bible for the band to sign.  From that moment began an unusual art project where for the next two decades Harth who is neither religious nor into celebrities would go around seeking signatures in his copy of the Bible from various famous people from around the globe.  Following his strange artistic quest is filmmaker Pierre Guillet who in his one-hour short documentary film The Book of Harth tries to make sense of this most unusual intersection of art, religion and celebrity culture which the artist himself doesn’t fully understand.

Featuring interviews with everyone from Kevin Smith to John Waters, Noam Chomsky to Paul Schrader who all offer their own thoughts on the project in between extended interviews with friends and family members who don’t know what to make of their son’s endless artistic opus, The Book of Harth for its creator is an entirely impersonal object where the signing of the book itself is an act of creation.  Everyone from musicians, painters, actors, authors, pioneers, and politicians are potentially for inclusion in the book while in some cases security guards fend off fans or try and interfere with the filmmakers in some fashion.  Tricky business comprised of long hours of standing alone outside of venues where celebrities come out with more than a few snubs not paying off, the question for many becomes whether or not the artistic creation is worth all of the personal sacrifices its creator keeps making, foregoing relationships or travel or livelihood in his ongoing pursuit of undefinable artistic expression.

Visually speaking Pierre Guillet handles his digital camera gracefully though some scenes are interspersed with preexisting scenes from earlier videography shoots and the score and sound mixing by Sami El-Enany does a good job of conveying a somber melancholy demeanor which feels for David Greg Harth’s free admission of forfeiting human relationships in favor this project not even the artist himself fully comprehends.  But at the same time it recognizes there’s no stopping the artist from his seemingly endless project which at times the artist himself refers to as a form of forced human interaction.  Whereas before he was socially withdrawn and awkward (still mostly so), the project itself pushed the man into the frontline of celebrity fan worship though there are more than a few sighs of exhaustion from Harth just wanting it to be done and over with.

Released on DVD by MVD Visual with a director commentary and a few extra scenes that didn’t make the cut, The Book of Harth is an interesting if not eccentric short documentary film whose strange peculiarities are counterbalanced by the filmmaker’s own insights and the various interviews waxing intellectual on the project itself.  For some who are not on the side of art, it is easy to write off Harth’s efforts as crazy or pretentious bullshit.  But at the same time, there’s an earnestness in his endeavor missing from other more stuck-up painters or artistic visionaries.  While in theory you could read the Holy Bible project as Dadaist, Harth’s intentions albeit nebulous remain sincere.  Though Harth himself isn’t sure of himself or the significance of his project if there is any, you still have to admire the human drive to go against the social grain to try and do something no one has seen or thought of before.

--Andrew Kotwicki